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Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2014

Major Supreme Court Decision Clarifies Compensation for Security Screening

A recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court could dramatically change the employment landscape on employee compensation for time spent going through security screening and could likely extend to other pre- and post-shift employee activities. The case of Integrity Staffing Solution, Inc., v. Busk involved warehouse employees working at storage and order-filling facilities for Amazon. A number of the company’s hourly paid workers sued Integrity under the Fair Labor Standards Act in response to the company requiring workers to go through security screening before leaving the premises at the end of their shift – a policy designed to deter employee theft of merchandise. The workers claimed that they had to wait sometimes up to twenty-five minutes after their shift to go through the screening. The workers argued that this procedure was a required part of their job, imposed by the company, and that they should therefore be entitled to be paid for time spent going through the screening.The trial court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim; however, the 9th Circuit reversed concluding that Integrity had to pay overtime for the screening because this after-work procedure was a job requirement and was for the company’s benefit. The Supreme Court took up the case and in a 9-0 decision reversed the 9th Circuit declaring that such screening procedures were not an “integral” part of the job.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion and held that for workers to be paid, the activity must be “an intrinsic element” of the job and “one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” Applying the rule to this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the workers were not hired to go through security screening, but rather to take products off the shelves and package them for shipment for Amazon. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied on a federal law which exempted employers from liability under the FLSA for “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to [the] principal activity or activities” employees are required to perform as a condition of employment. Here, and unlike the pre-shift donning of protective gear, Integrity could have eliminated the screenings without in any way affecting the safety or ability of the worker’s to complete their normal tasks.

There are a couple big takeaways employers can glean from this ruling: First, the Supreme Court explicitly held that an activity is not compensable simply because it is required by the employer. Rather, a court’s focus is on whether the activity in question is related to the employee’s principal duties he or she is employed to perform. Also, the Court held that an activity is not compensable simply because it is for the benefit of the employer. Instead, the activity must be “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s productive work. Furthermore, as security concerns in the workplace continue to grow, this decision may have the practical effect of more employers beginning to conduct security screenings at the end of the workday. This decision may also very well extend to other preliminary and postliminary employment activities such as time spent on bag checks, logging into the company network, changing clothes, or locking up the office as long as the employer can show that the activity is not an “integral and indespensible” activity and one “with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” Ultimately, this decision is a major victory for employers that provides much needed clarity to the issue of whether security screening is compensable at a time when such procedures are becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace in an effort to promote security and cut down on employee theft.

Nick Johnson is an attorney with Washington, DC business law firm, Berenzweig Leonard. He can be reached at njohnson@BerenzweigLaw.com

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